Nurture Possibility Thinking to Unlock the Best in Your People and Organization

When business leaders make it safe for their people to be themselves and share their ideas without fear, they will be overwhelmed with the unexpected brilliance that emerges from their workforce.

As we develop from children to adults, our lives present new responsibilities and challenges that increasingly call on our critical thinking skills. While this is a natural part of growing up, it also means that as we move through life, we often tend to exercise logical, “left-brain” thinking much more than our more creative, “right-brain” thinking. Pablo Picasso referred to this dynamic when he said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

For individuals, teams, leaders, and organizations, harnessing the power of possibility can unblock systemic complexity, overcome stubborn obstacles, and often generate brand new business opportunities. As Picasso acknowledged, the challenge in using possibility thinking in our work lives is that our professional environments often aren’t structured in a way that always supports freedom of thinking.

There are ways we can change this in our professional environments, though. I recommend starting with some simple yet powerful ideas:

1. Give yourself and your team permission to temporarily suspend logic and reason. As leaders in business, we are conditioned to think about how to scale our efforts and monetize our offerings. Our challenge is how to exercise possibility thinking in spite of these environmental pressures. To do this, we have to actively give ourselves permission to temporarily suspend logic and reason, to play and experiment with our thinking.

Possibility thinking embraces non-rational, sometimes illogical ideas. This means remaining open to those ideas, even when we don’t know how to support their execution. American businessman Terry Josephson encourages leaders to be aware of stymying their ideas. He says, “Stop thinking in terms of limitations and start thinking in terms of possibilities.”

2. Withhold judgement and censorship of ideas (your own and others’). Possibility thinking requires freeing our mind of judgement, skepticism, and cynicism. This can be achieved by monitoring your thoughts and ideas and consciously choosing to suspend the usual judgment and censorship when it arises. Even if the ideas seem improbable or irrational, when leaders have the courage to conceive and share their big ideas, they model possibility thinking and create an environment where others feel safe to share new approaches.

Psychotherapist and author Saleem Rana says, “Possibility thinking is a heroic act because it allows the future to break from the past. It allows for a flow of new probabilities and outcomes. Our future depends on those who dare to think beyond the confines of orthodoxy. Possibility thinking is the child of evolution. It is empowered by hope and vision.”

3. Trust your intuition, looking for patterns and connections. When we give ourselves permission to operate in an “anything is possible” mindset, we open our lives, careers, and organizations up to the power of what could be. This involves asking expansive, “What if?” questions and keeping a wide focus on the scope of any given project. In the moment you may feel time has been wasted by browsing irrelevant material, but in hindsight, you will realize this is all a part of harnessing the power of possibility.

As hard as it is to believe when you’re in the thick of it, groundbreaking insight can and does emerge from disorder and chaos. In fact, some of the most revolutionary inventions have been stumbled upon in a non-linear fashion. For instance, the pacemaker was born after it failed as a heartbeat detector. Similarly, NASA’s first space suits were equipped with Velcro because an engineer wanted to recreate the structure of the cockleburs that stuck to his dog’s fur.

In the more than 20 years I’ve led a global people development business, I’ve come to know that when business leaders make it safe for their people to be themselves and share their ideas without fear, they will be overwhelmed with the unexpected brilliance that emerges from their workforce. By creating an environment where every individual is encouraged to bring his or her whole self to work, organizations open themselves up to leveraging the power of possibility within each employee, team, and function. If we make room for what we don’t yet know, we will lead ourselves, our people, and our businesses into a world of infinite possibility.

Named as 2016 EY Entrepreneur for the Year for Scotland, CEO Andy Lothian is dedicated to the connection between personal development and business development. He founded Insights Learning and Development with his father, Andi Lothian, more than 20 years ago and has turned a two-man operation into a successful global development company. In his dual roles as Insights’ chief executive and head of People (Human Resources and Talent Development function), Lothian is passionately committed to enabling profound people development, whether for the organization’s clients or employees.

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